Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

8/13/2014
05:20 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Cyberspies Target Chinese Ethnic Group

Academic researchers study phishing emails targeting the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which represents the Uyghur ethnic group residing in China and in exile.

New academic research underscores the new reality that small organizations, too, are the target of cyber espionage.

Researchers from Northeastern University, the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, and the National University of Singapore studied phishing emails used in a four-year targeted attack against the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a nongovernmental organization that represents the Uyghur ethnic group residing in China and in exile.

"I find it interesting that small organizations are being targeted, and no zero-days are being used," says Engin Kirda, a professort at Northeastern and co-founder and chief architect of Lastline Labs. "There have been a lot of reports of mostly high-profile corporations being targeted and how sophisticated" those attacks are. "But from an academic point of view, we wanted to look at other types of attacks as well, with a small organization being targeted. Now it shows us this was not sophisticated."

Next week at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Diego, Kirda will present the researchers' paper, "A Look at Targeted Attacks Through the Lense of an NGO." He says he and his fellow researchers -- Stevens Le Blond, Adina Uritesc, and C´edric Gilbert of the Max Planck Institute and Zheng Leong Chua and Prateek Saxena of the National University of Singapore -- can't confirm the attackers came out of China or are backed by the Chinese government. "But there's a good chance there's some Chinese entity behind it. If I were to speculate, I'd say yes, the Chinese might be [associated] with these attacks."

The researchers studied 1,000 emails and their attachments or embedded URLs sent to the WUC and other organizations, including journalists at AFP, CNN International, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and Reporters Without Borders; politicians in the Netherlands and China; universities around the world; and NGOs such as Save Tibet-International Campaign for Tibet and Amnesty International.

"Many [exploited] vulnerabilities had been around quite a while and are still being used, which suggests most people are doing a bad job patching their systems," Kirda says. It also shows you don't need a zero-day bug to compromise a small organization, and the attackers don't want to waste those types of exploits.

For example, the researchers found that the language and topics of the emails were crafted to appear friendly and in line with the users they were impersonating. Most of the emails sent to the WUC were written in Uyghur and came with malicious document attachments. More than one-fourth of the malware families found in the attachments had some ties to groups that have targeted Tibetan NGOs and political and industrial organizations, the researchers found.

Kirda says the WUC could have been used as a steppingstone to a larger target. "It would have been great to have access to some of the compromised systems and see what data was stolen," but the researchers were not privy to that information.

The researchers also found the same command and control infrastructure used by the DTL group against NGOs in November 2013, as well as by attacks against Tibetan and Hong Kong targets.

The full paper will be available here once the conference begins.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
US Turning Up the Heat on North Korea's Cyber Threat Operations
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  9/16/2019
MITRE Releases 2019 List of Top 25 Software Weaknesses
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  9/17/2019
Preventing PTSD and Burnout for Cybersecurity Professionals
Craig Hinkley, CEO, WhiteHat Security,  9/16/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-14821
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-19
An out-of-bounds access issue was found in the Linux kernel, all versions through 5.3, in the way Linux kernel's KVM hypervisor implements the Coalesced MMIO write operation. It operates on an MMIO ring buffer 'struct kvm_coalesced_mmio' object, wherein write indices 'ring->first' and 'ring->l...
CVE-2019-15032
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-19
Pydio 6.0.8 mishandles error reporting when a directory allows unauthenticated uploads, and the remote-upload option is used with the http://localhost:22 URL. The attacker can obtain sensitive information such as the name of the user who created that directory and other internal server information.
CVE-2019-15033
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-19
Pydio 6.0.8 allows Authenticated SSRF during a Remote Link Feature download. An attacker can specify an intranet address in the file parameter to index.php, when sending a file to a remote server, as demonstrated by the file=http%3A%2F%2F192.168.1.2 substring.
CVE-2019-16412
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-19
In goform/setSysTools on Tenda N301 wireless routers, attackers can trigger a device crash via a zero wanMTU value. (Prohibition of this zero value is only enforced within the GUI.)
CVE-2019-16510
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-19
libIEC61850 through 1.3.3 has a use-after-free in MmsServer_waitReady in mms/iso_mms/server/mms_server.c, as demonstrated by server_example_goose.